Tag Archives: Boston Red Sox

Dwight Evans: a man of walks, and one good walk-off

I had been meaning to do a walk-off blog on Dwight Evans as a bit of a hello to my former boss at ESPN, but had briefly forgotten until a current colleague mentioned Evans’ Hall of Fame candidacy recently, as it is one that sabermetrician Bill James strongly supports.

Evans was one of those players who teeters between the Hall of Fame and the Hall of Very Good, with more teetering done the way of the latter. He was a star, but not a superstar. He’s someone who would have thrived in this era of MLB, given his combination of getting on base and hitting for power. He hit .272/.370/.470 with 385 home runs. He led the AL in walks three times, more than he led it in any other prominent offensive category.

Over a nine-year period from 1981 to 1980 he averaged 26 home runs and 95 walks per season, along with an .886 OPS. In that time, he’s one of the best hitters in baseball. Earlier in his career, he was one of the game’s top defensive outfielders, as he ranked top-two in outfield assists in four different seasons.

As far as walk-offs go, Evans isn’t known most for a walk-off he hit, but more one that he helped happen. He made a great catch in the 11th inning on a fly ball hit by Joe Morgan that he turned into a double play in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. An inning later, Carlton Fisk homered to win the game for Boston, one of the most famous home runs in World Series history.

Evans’ best walk-off moment came on June 23, 1990 in his final season with the Red Sox. This should be known as the day that Dwight Evans would not let the Red Sox lose.

Boston fell behind 2-1 in the eighth inning when second baseman Jody Reed made an error that allowed a run to score against ace pitcher Roger Clemens. In the bottom of the eighth, Evans came up with two outs and belted a game-tying home run against Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson.

The game went into extra innings, at which point Clemens departed for Rob Murphy, who allowed a go-ahead home run to Mickey Tettleton in the top of the 10th. The Orioles could have done further damage, but Joe Orsulak was thrown out at third base on a double steal.

In the Red Sox 10th, the first two hitters went down against Orioles closer Gregg Olson. But Tom Brunansky singled and pinch-runner Randy Kutcher advanced to second on a wild pitch with Evans at the plate.

The count on Evans went to 2-2. It should be noted that Olson hadn’t allowed a home run in more than a year. He was tough to hit with a sinker and a devastating curveball. But he threw Evans a high fastball, and Evans hit it over the Green Monster for a game-winning home run.

Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan compared Evans to Roy Hobbs. The Red Sox would go on to win the AL East, though they got swept by the Athletics in the ALCS. But Evans who was going to turn 39 that November was unceremoniously released.

The Orioles, perhaps liking what they saw from that walk-off, brought Evans in for the 1991 season. That was the final year of his career. And Evans got a little measure of revenge against his former team that September, recording a walk-off to beat them. Perhaps appropriately, it was a walk-off walk.

One of the resources I used for this blog was a game story written by Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Nick died last week and though I didn’t know him, I did work with his son when I was at ESPN, and have read nothing but great things about him. My condolences to his family.

The best Red Sox walk-off win vs the Yankees that you don’t know

Sabermetrician Tom Tango pointed me to a box score I find rather astounding and the story of which seems worth telling.

On September 5, 1927, the Yankees and Red Sox played in one of their most remarkable meetings at Fenway Park. Now keep in mind that these were the vaunted 1927 Yankees, who would go on to win the World Series and be crowned as one of the greatest teams of all-time. At the time, they were 90-38 and the Red Sox were 40-86. The Yankees were talking of who would start Game 1 of the World Series. The Red Sox were ready to be done.

This was the first game of a Labor Day doubleheader and one that attracted a huge crowd, with more than 36,000 in the stands. Some fans spilled on to the playing field, which was not unusual in those days. They were roped off, with any ball hit into that crowd ruled a ground-rule double. In the next day’s Boston Globe, the legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice lamented the lack of an AL pennant race killed attendance in multiple cities, but not on this day.

The Red Sox started Red Ruffing, a fourth-year pitcher, who showed none of the signs of greatness he’d later show with the Yankees in becoming a Hall-of-Famer. The Yankees started one of their secondary starters, George Pipgras.

This one was crazy from the start, with the Yankees leaving the bases loaded in the top of the first when Tony Lazzeri struck out, and the Red Sox scoring three times in the bottom of the inning.

Lazzeri avenged that in the third inning when he singled in the go-ahead run, two batters after Lou Gehrig matched Babe Ruth with his 44th home run of the season. That was a huge story at the time, as the two chased Ruth’s all-time record of 59. Gehrig did not keep pace much longer. He finished with 47 home runs. Ruth hit 60 (“let’s see some SOB match that,” he said after hitting his 60th).

The Yankees extended the lead to 6-3, but the Red Sox scored four in the fourth, chasing Pipgras with a pair of bases-loaded walks. They’d add another run to go ahead of the Yankees 8-6 in the fifth.

That held up until two outs in the ninth inning. Ruffing had stayed in the game and needed to just retire Earle Combs to end the game. No such luck. Combs hit a two-run ground-rule double.

Ruffing stayed in the game, because that’s what pitchers did back then. Except he stayed in the game for awhile. Ruffing held the Yankees at bay through the 15th inning. His pitching line is bizarre: 15 innings, 8 runs, 16 hits, 12 strikeouts and 11 walks.

Reliever Wilcy Moore was likewise good for the Yankees, pitching eight stellar innings. Moore was an early version of a closer, though this early version pitched 213(!) innings over 50 appearances that season, and recorded 13 saves (saves awarded retroactively, using the current rule).

In the 17th inning, the Yankees scored three runs against Hal Wiltse. Combs singled in a run. Ruth plated a run by reaching on an error. Gehrig singled in a run. That put the Yankees ahead 11-8 and if you think about it, their win probability should have been 100%. They were about 50 games better than the Red Sox AND had a three run lead with three outs to go.

Alas, this is baseball and sometimes the team with a 0% chance of winning surprises you. The Red Sox scored three against the combination of Moore AND Yankees ace starter Waite Hoyt, who was one of the top starters in baseball that season. The tying run came in on a hit by Bill Moore, one of 18 hits in a career in which he hit a less-than-robust .207.

Given a second life, Wiltse made the most of it. He escaped the 18th inning unscathed. And in the bottom of the 18th, back-to-back ground-rule doubles into the roped-off crowd by Buddy Myer and Ira Flagstead brought home the run the made the Red Sox the unlikeliest of winners.

Go figure!

The greatest walk-off rally you never heard of

Baseball-Reference recently added a phenomenal feature to its site which allows you to look at the greatest comebacks in the timespan for which they have play-by-play data.

It is there that I learned of the baseball game between the Senators and Red Sox on June 18, 1961.

This was the first game of a doubleheader. The Senators had lost their last two games, but were a respectable 30-32. The Red Sox were 30-30. Neither would challenge the amazing 1961 Yankees for AL supremacy, but these were respectable squads at the time.

This game turned interesting in the fourth inning, when the Senators scored their first run and the Red Sox scored their first two. In the fifth inning, a two-run home run by first baseman Dale Long (who once homered in eight consecutive games) put the Senators ahead 5-2.

After six innings and more scoring by players you probably don’t know (Pete Daley and Don Buddin homered), the score was 7-5 in favor of the Senators.

In the ninth inning, the Senators got the insurance runs that most teams need. Centerfielder Willie Tasby hit a grand slam, one of a career-high 17 home runs he’d hit that season. Tasby had been on the Red Sox the previous season, so that home run must have felt pretty good. Heading to the bottom of the ninth, the Senators led the Red Sox, 12-5.

Pitcher Carl Mathias needed three outs for a complete game in what was his first start of the season. He got the first, coaxing a ground out from Vic Wertz. Buddin singled, but Billy Harrell struck out. At that point, trailing 12-5 with a man on first base and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox win probability was .02 percent. Not 2 percent, but .02 percent.

The third out proved to be one of the most elusive in baseball history. Chuck Schilling (not Curt) singled. Carroll Hardy singled, scoring Buddin. Gary Geiger walked.

Mathias was removed in favor of Dave Sisler (son of George) with the score 12-6. But Sisler may not have been ready to enter. We say that because he walked the first two batters, forcing in two runs. Although a closer look shows that Sisler walked 7 batters per 9 innings, so that wasn’t that surprising a result.

Now, the score had gone from 12-5 to 12-8 and the Red Sox had the bases loaded and the tying run at the plate with two outs. Catcher Jim Pagliaroni would face Sisler with the game on the line.

Thanks to the wonderful SABR-written bio of Pagliaroni, I can tell you that two years later, Pagliaroni would get some coaching from Dave Sisler’s father, a Hall of Famer. I can also tell you that Pagliaroni sounds like a pretty good guy. He worked closely with the MLBPA as a player rep, raised money for the Baseball Assistance Team and MLBPA Alumni Association, as well as the ALS Association, where his connection was being the catcher for Catfish Hunter’s perfect game. He was also a partner in a renewable energy project development company.

It’s often said that good things happen to good people. That day, they happened for Pagliaroni in a big way. As you might guess, he hit a grand slam to tie the game, 12-12.

Wertz, up for the second time in the inning walked, leading to Sisler being pulled in favor of Marty Kutnya. That didn’t help. Buddin singled, advancing Wertz to second base, where he was replaced by pinch-runner Pete Runnels. Russ Nixon pinch-hit for Harrell, which made sense given that Harrell was hitting .176. Sure enough, Nixon singled in Runnels with the winning run. Final score: Red Sox 13, Senators 12.

As if that wasn’t enough, Game 2 of the doubleheader went 13. There were no furious Red Sox comebacks in this one, just a walk-off home run by Pagliaroni(!) in the bottom of the 13th.

The Red Sox finished the season a rather unmemorable 76-86, so this game is just a footnote in another of the many seasons of frustration from 1919 to 2003.

The poor Senators took awhile to win another game. They ended up losing 10 straight. The Washington team that went 30-30 in its first 60 games went 31-70 in its last 101. Ouch.

That time Boston beat Los Angeles by walk-off

Thought it would be appropriate to do a walk-off in which Boston defeated Los Angeles and to do that, we flash back to June 11, 2004, a time when the Red Sox were not yet thought of as dynastic, but were on their way through the most memorable season in franchise history.

They were facing the Dodgers on a Friday night in Boston. Much like Sunday’s Super Bowl, this game was a low-scoring struggle. Neither team scored through the first six-and-a-half-innings. It was a good pitcher’s duel between Red Sox starter Derek Lowe and Dodgers pitcher Odalis Perez.

Boston scored in the seventh on a home run by (surprise) David Ortiz. That was that until the top of the ninth, and this is the part I like a lot.

Keith Foulke got the first two Dodgers out, which left the game up to none other than the No. 9 hitter, Red Sox-manager-to-be Alex Cora.

Cora reached on an infield single, keeping the game alive for … none other than current Dodgers manager and future Red Sox postseason hero Dave Roberts (how great is that?).

Except Jim Tracy pulled Roberts back and sent up a pinch-hitter, Olmedo Saenz. That seems a little odd given that Roberts was 2-for-4 in the game. Nonetheless, Saenz hit a fly ball to left field that should have ended the game. But the ball got caught in a stiff wind and Manny Ramirez muffed it. Cora came all the way around to score to tie the game.

“There goes my Gold Glove,” Ramirez told reporters with a laugh, after the game.

Foulke got the next batter out and the Red Sox went to work to end the game in the home ninth. It only took three batters. Johnny Damon led off with a walk against Dodgers lefty Tom Martin. Mark Bellhorn than had what might have been the at-bat of the game, doubling on Martin’s ninth pitch to advance Damon to third.

Given the choice of pitching to Ortiz with runners on second and third or Ramirez with the bases loaded, the Dodgers went after Ortiz. Note to self: Don’t ever pitch to David Ortiz in a walk-off situation.

Ortiz singled on a hanging 0-2 curveball to win the game.

It wasn’t the only time Ortiz would win a game vs a franchise from that part of California in walk-off fashion that season. Remember that Ortiz hit a walk-off home run to beat the Angels in Game 3 of that year’s ALDS. This was just the warm-up.

(If the Rams had won, I was going to something on Jerry Goff’s only walk-off RBI. We’ll save that for another day).

One more unusual Yankees-Red Sox walk-off

Alright, let’s do one more from the weird walk-offs file in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

The Yankees-Red Sox game on September 28, 1987 was a doozy. A meaningless doozy, but a doozy nonetheless. Neither team was in the race for the division lead. Based on my reading of the next day’s newspapers, it’s safe to say both squads were playing out the string.

The Red Sox scored five runs in the top of the first inning, and neither team would have probably minded if the game had stopped right there. Attendance was sparse, at least per the Boston Globe which likened it to a crowd from the Horace Clarke 1960s days. Mike Greenwell doubled in two runs. Jody Reed tripled in three. After Sam Horn homered in the fourth inning, the score was 7-0 Red Sox.

The Yankees chipped away gradually. Rickey Henderson homered in the sixth inning. Willie Randolph and Don Mattingly each drove in a run in the seventh. The score was now 7-3. The Red Sox didn’t help themselves, failing to score with the bases loaded and no outs in the seventh and after putting the first two men on base in the eighth inning.

It was still a four-run lead for Boston entering the bottom of the ninth. But not for long. A double and walk started things for the Yankees and chased Jeff Sellers in favor of Wes Gardner. That didn’t help.

Gardner walked Willie Randolph to load the bases. Don Mattingly followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 7-4. Dave Winfield then doubled and suddenly it was 7-5. Out went Gardner, in came Joe Sambito to pitch to Mike Pagliarulo try to close the deal (Sambito’s an agent now). Yankees manager Lou Piniella countered with veteran infielder Jerry Royster as a pinch-hitter. Royster came through, doubling home two runs to tie the game.

How many pitchers can combine to cough up a baseball game? In this case, the answer was four. Calvin Schiraldi replaced Sambito. Piniella sent up another pinch-hitter, lefty-swinging Mike Easler to bat for Gary Ward.

Easler, known as Hit Man, had three at-bats left in his 15-year major league career. He went out in memorable fashion in this game, hitting a game-winning two-run home run into the upper deck.

The one other person who deserves recognition for this game is Bill Fulton. Fulton pitched the eighth and ninth innings, did not allow a run, and recorded his first MLB win in his third career appearance.

It was also his last. He never pitched in the major leagues again.

Thanks to Jason Southard for tipping me off to this game.

Wade Boggs impressed early and often

Red Sox manager Ralph Houk described Wade Boggs as his secret weapon just 15 games into Boggs’ career. Peter Gammons called him “Boston’s answer to the MX missile – nobody really knows about him, but he’s there for the striking.”

Though Boggs only hit .258 in those 15 games, he clearly did something to impress. Among that which he did was hitting a walk-off home run.

It was June 22, 1982 and to that point in the season, things were going pretty well for the Red Sox. Though the Brewers and Orioles would surpass them, at this point, it was possible to dream about meaningful October baseball, as the Boston 9 were in first place.

But in this game against the Tigers, they trailed 4-2 after Detroit scored twice in the eighth. That would not be enough for the Tigers to win. With a man on first and two outs in the ninth inning, Dwight Evans hit a dramatic home run against Tigers starter Milt Wilcox to tie the game.

The Red Sox lineup carried some significant heft. It included Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Evans and Tony Perez.

But Boggs would be the one to leave his mark on the night. In the 11th inning, he homered over the Green Monster in left field to win the game. It was the first home run of his MLB career. In the AP story, he notes that he almost tripped over first base watching it.

“Dwight had told me back in the eighth that if I got the ball out there I should try to drive it that way,” said Boggs (quotes via Gammons’ story in the Boston Globe. “So that’s just what I did.”

Wade Boggs Minutiae
– Boggs hit three walk-off home runs in his career, two with the Red Sox (the other in 1991) and one with the Yankees. By coincidence, the one for the Yankees in 1993 was his first home run with them and also came against the Tigers.

– Boggs didn’t have a walk-off in the World Series, but he did do something one of a kind. He has the only go-ahead walk in the ninth inning or later in World Series history (1996 Game 4 – Yankees vs Braves)

– One of my favorite things about Boggs is his guest-star appearance in the “Bar Wars” episode of Cheers. Boggs didn’t have a walk-off moment, but he did have a ran-off and a pants-off. Remember that he came to the bar as a reward for Cheers winning the prank battle with Gary’s Old Town Tavern. But the folks at the bar didn’t believe it was really Boggs, so they chased him out of the bar.

This might be the Yankees weirdest win vs the Red Sox

There have been some amazing Yankees-Red Sox games in the last couple of decades. But I’ve got one with which you’re probably not familiar that may be the weirdest of them all.

It comes from September 5, 1957. The Yankees were trying to hold off the White Sox for the American League lead (they would) but had hit a little funk. They were without Mickey Mantle and trailing the Red Sox 2-0 entering the bottom of the eighth.

Mantle would make an appearance as a pinch-hitter with one on and two out in the eighth inning, drawing a controversial walk (the Red Sox thought they had strike three). The inning extended and the Yankees would eventually tie the game on Gil McDougald’s two-run single.

Closer Bob Grim replaced Bob Turley for the ninth inning and got into immediate trouble, allowing a leadoff double to Jackie Jensen, who advanced to third on a ground out. But Grim escaped, getting a comebacker and then a fly to right from opposing pitcher Willard Nixon. Yes, the pitcher batted in a key spot in the ninth inning. In fairness, Nixon was a good hitter. He batted .293 in 75 at-bats that season.

Perhaps Casey Stengel was inspired in seeing this. Or perhaps the Yankees were short bodies, having already used three pinch-hitters and a pinch-runner. In the bottom of the 10th, after Jerry Lumpe singled and Enos Slaughter walked with two outs, Grim was left in to bat for himself.

Grim was not Nixon. The Yankees pitcher was 4-for-his-last-61 at the plate, including 0-for-7 this season after going 1-for-16 in 1956. Stengel would later note that if he pinch-hit with Andy Carey, he’d have been forced to use a pitcher in the outfield because of the defensive changes. So Grim was left to bat with the game on the line.

But this is baseball, a sport in which the impossible and unbelievable happens with a greater frequency than is meant to be. Sure enough, Grim homered, an opposite-field shot into the first row in right field, giving the Yankees a walk-off win. “I was dumbfounded” he told reporters after the game, unable to identify the type of pitch he hit.

The Boston Globe shared a funny quote from Stengel afterwards.

“When he got to second base, he didn’t know what to do. He slowed down and looked over to the bench to see if he should keep on running for our first feller had already crossed home plate.”

It should be noted that Grim had three extra-base hits in his nine-year career. All of them were home runs.